August 17, 2011 Out of the Xtratufs and Into My 'School' Clothes--Reflections on a Summer Well Spent
It's amazing what 48 hours of travel will do. Each leg of my trip involved larger aircraft and put me in more crowded and busy places. We left our camp at Raven Bluff around 11AM on August 8th. By 6:30 that evening we were in Fairbanks. At 1AM on August 10th, barely enough time to dry out my clothes, repack my bags, and wander around Fairbanks to check out the Tanana Valley State Fair (home to all sorts of fried items on sticks--I was afraid to try out the deep-fried pop tarts!), I was on an Alaska Airways jet bound for Seattle. The Seattle airport was fairly empty at 5:30 in the morning, nothing in comparison to the crowded and busy airport in Denver at 11:30 AM (9:30AM, Fairbanks time). From Denver I flew via a small commercial jet to my 'home' airport near Aspen, Colorado, landing at 1PM (11AM, Fairbanks time). When I landed, the sun was shining, temperatures were in the 80s, and I knew that I was far from the soggy camp I'd left a mere 48 hours ago. This high-speed transportation is a bit disorienting!
I've had a few days now to settle into my home routine; wash all those clothes, weed the vegetable garden, ride my bike, and get in some quality hiking time in the mountains while reflecting on my PolarTREC summer. So, with that in mind, it's time for some thanks to all who made it possible, as well as some thoughts about lessons learned and what to do with what I learned.
First and foremost, I need to thank Janet Warburton and Kristin Timm, the queens of PolarTREC as well as IT masters Zeb Polly and Ronnie Owens. Janet and Kristin do an amazing job of creating a seamless experience for the teachers who are selected as well as for the researchers with whom they are partnered. Zeb and Ronnie were instrumental in translating my emailed journals and pictures to the PolarTREC website. Magic!!
Of course, none of this would happen without the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Thanks for supporting teachers and helping create strong bonds between teachers and polar science researchers. This bond is important if we want to improve science education and help future generations understand and include science in their lives.
I also need to thank Robbie Score of C2HMHill, aka Polar Services, for helping me 'dress for success'. She was the key to providing me with a tent that kept me cozy and comfortable through wind and rain at Raven Bluff, as well as the protective raingear that made working in the mud so much fun.
Roy Stehle, of SRI Communications International made sure I had the best in Iridium Satellite phones and solar chargers. This was instrumental in allowing me to communicate with the world. Each time I sat down to write and send journals I was a bit stunned at the relative ease with which bits and bytes went out into space and made it where they needed to go.
I was lucky enough to be placed in two research experiences--the PolarTREC bonus package! I was able to work on two projects with a unifying theme of 'How old is that stuff and what does that mean?' Not only that, while they were at almost the same latitude, they were on opposite sides of the state. Best of all, I got to spend time with people who had an amazing passion for their work.
My first expedition was to the banks of Mancha Creek, near the Firth River in NE Alaska, in search of the northernmost White Spruce in North America. Many thanks to Dr. Kevin Anchukaitis from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory for including me in a small piece of his work. Kevin is, from my observations, attempting to 'core the world's trees in one lifetime'. I hope to be able to visit the lab in the spring to help count rings and examine growth patterns to learn more about how these trees are responding to a changing climate. Angela Allen, aquatic ecologist and the third member of our team, added to our trip with her extensive background of arctic field experience.
On the other side of the state, I was welcomed into the camp at Raven Bluff, on the banks of a tributary to the Kivalina River. Many thanks to Stan Hermens for his helicopter skills and for the amazing day I spent with him and Bill Hedman doing archaeological survey work.
Thanks to the crew at Raven Bluff for teaching me the way of the trowel and helping me realize that I haven't really missed much by living without a TV set for such a long time (when it came to talking about popular TV shows while we were digging, I was clueless!). While all members of the team played a part in my conversion from dendrochronologist to archaeologist, special thanks to project directors Dr. Jeff Rasic of the National Park Service, and Bill Hedman of the Bureau of Land Management, for including me in this year's dig, as well as to Dr. Ian Buvit for making me glad I had taken an agronomy class almost 40 years ago!
So, the gear has been put away, everyone's thanked, now comes the really hard question, "How do I translate what I did this summer to my students and community in a way that makes it interesting and meaningful?" While I will be intertwining some of the concepts and information that I learned into the science classes that I teach, it is equally important to incorporate some of the bigger ideas that I have learned. First and foremost, will be sharing the passion with which these researchers pursue their interests. This was a unifying theme for both of the projects; working with people who are excited about the work they are doing. I also hope to convey to my students the excitement of scientific field research where you are continually asking questions that require careful, methodical, and detailed work in fabulous locations.
Finally, lest you think that every minute of every day was spent in pursuit of scientific meaning, I need to post a couple of pictures. "So long, and thanks for all the fish"
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